At the Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service (a free legal advice service offered by the Adelaide Law School as part of the Clinical Legal Education elective subject) students regularly advise clients to consider mediation as an alternative to litigation, and as regularly are asked “what’s that?”
Lawyers, judges and law students are keen advocates of mediation – anything to avoid the uncertainty, distress, cost and disappointment of litigation. Mediation offers parties the chance to fully discuss and explore their dispute, with each other, face to face, with the support and guidance of a neutral third party. It’s cheaper, more humanistic, and importantly it offers parties the chance to discuss issues that no court will be interested in.
So why doesn’t everyone else know this?
Two years ago Adelaide Lawyer and Mediator Ruth Beach decided to address this question at a grass roots level – provide people with information and advice about how mediation can help them. And provide this information at the very moment when people are receptive and interested – when they go to court for the first time in a dispute.
Ruth set up a Mediation Information Service. A dozen qualified mediators volunteer to take turns attending the general civil list in the Magistrates Court each Monday and Tuesday to advise and inform parties of options other than going to trial. Sometimes they help people towards an agreement, if time permits they can offer a short mediation session. All of this is done pro bono, with mediators offering their time and expertise at no charge.
“For many litigants, the initial directions hearing is often the first time they have seen the other party for a considerable period of time and communication may be fractious. A mediator can assist to break down those communication barriers and reach resolution at an early stage before parties become even more positional.”
Adelaide Law School’s Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service took over management of this service this year. Students have prepared handouts to parties about mediation, they organise the rosters, communicate with mediators and the court, and attend court with the mediators each week. Law students Millie Livingstone and Rachel Phillips devised all of the documentation and processes in early 2017, and law students Amanda Hughes and Jessica Watson took over the running of this program for second semester, and are doing an outstanding job.
“As a final year law student and coordinator of
the Mediation Information Service, I work closely with mediators and lawyers, providing a fundamental service to Magistrates and parties involved in minor civil disputes. MIS provides a much needed informal conflict-resolution option, reducing the burden on the courts and Magistrates, who have a substantial case load. The service educates parties on mediation as an option for dispute resolution and can provide ad hoc mediation. I have benefited remarkably from the practical experience of attending court hearings and mediations, boosting my familiarity and awareness of the legal sphere. Through this experience I have interacted with and formed crucial relationships with legal and non- legal professionals.”
Amanda Hughes who with Jessica Watson coordinated the MIS in second semester 2017.
Moving forward, students will gather empirical data on usage of the service so that MCLAS can provide reliable data to the court about the demand and value of on-site immediate access to mediation services.
So far the service has been busy every day it operates, and is making a real difference. It is a great opportunity for students to get first hand experience in this growing area of practice.
“The Mediation Information Service was a great practical exposure to how alternative dispute resolution operates within the court system. The mediators I volunteered with generously shared the professional experiences with me and I was even able to witness an on the spot mediation which resulted in a satisfactory resolution for both parties. The service added a great practical element to my degree!” Elle Spyrou, CLE student.
For more information on MIS contact :